Arizona Wildcats vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (-3.5, 134)
The longstanding friendship between Arizona coach Sean Miller and Ohio State coach Thad Matta will be set aside Thursday when the sixth-seeded Wildcats and No. 2 Buckeyes collide in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. Miller and Matta became friends while serving on the Miami (Ohio) staff of Herb Sendek, currently the head coach at Arizona State. Their 12th-seeded RedHawks upset fifth-seeded Arizona in the 1995 NCAA Tournament.
Matta later hired Miller as his assistant at Xavier, where Miller took over after Matta left for Ohio State in 2004. They met on opposite ends of the floor once before, in the second round of the 2007 NCAA Tournament, with the top-seeded Buckeyes prevailing in overtime against No. 9 Xavier. This matchup looks to be similarly close, as Ohio State enters on a 10-game winning streak but could be vulnerable against Arizona’s size. Amir Williams, a 6-11 sophomore center, is the only player taller than 6-8 for the Buckeyes, but he's been limited to 16.5 minutes. The Wildcats, meanwhile, feature 7-foot freshman center Kaleb Tarczewski in the starting lineup with freshmen forwards Grant Jerrett (6-10) and Brandon Ashley (6-8) off the bench.
TV: 7:47 p.m. ET, TBS.
ABOUT ARIZONA (27-7, 16-16-0 ATS): Mark Lyons has already accomplished something no other player in NCAA history done, advancing to two straight Sweet 16s with different teams. Lyons, a 6-1 senior point guard, led Xavier to the quarterfinals last season before moving to Arizona in the offseason as a graduate transfer. He also helped the Musketeers to the Sweet 16 as a freshman before they lost in double overtime to Kansas State. Lyons has been playing his best basketball of the season lately. He’s averaging 25 points through the first two tournament games and has turned the ball over twice in each of the last four games.
ABOUT OHIO STATE (28-7, 20-12-1 ATS): Aaron Craft missed three free throws in the final 4:40 of Sunday’s game against 10th-seeded Iowa State but saved the Buckeyes by drawing a controversial charge with 1:41 remaining and then sinking a 3-pointer with one second left in the 78-75 victory. His defense on Lyons will be key in the West Regional semifinal. Some opposing coaches consider Craft the best defensive guard in the country. “You can’t simulate the defensive pressure of Craft in practice. He’s like having two guys on you,” Northern Kentucky coach Dave Bezold said after a loss to the Buckeyes back in December.
* Wildcats are 5-0 ATS in their last five NCAA Tournament games.
* Buckeyes are 5-1 ATS in their last six neutral-site games.
* Under is 22-10-1 in Wildcats' last 33 overall.
* Under is 7-3 in Buckeyes' last 10 overall.
1. Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas is averaging 23 points through the first two tournament games after leading all players in scoring at last season’s NCAA Tournament (19.2).
2. Ohio State and Arizona have met once previously, a 90-47 victory by the Buckeyes during the 1972-73 season.
3. With his next appearance, Arizona State senior forward Solomon Hill will tie the school record for most games played (139). Kyle Fogg set the current mark from 2008-12.
La Salle Explorers vs. Wichita State Shockers (-4, 135.5)
Either Wichita State or La Salle will be playing for a spot in the Final Four. The ninth-seeded Shockers and 13th-seeded Explorers are unlikely opponents in Thursday’s Sweet 16 contest in Los Angeles and the winner advances to Saturday’s West Regional final. Wichita State shocked top-seeded Gonzaga in the round of 32, while La Salle won three days in five games and advanced to the Sweet 16 with a 76-74 victory over Mississippi.
Explorers coach John Giannini refuses to buy into the notion that the Explorers are a “Cinderella” after their unlikely string of victories that began with wins over Boise State and Kansas State. “What people label us, we really try not to acknowledge it,” Giannini said. Wichita State routed Pittsburgh before posting the 76-70 victory over the Bulldogs, and the Shockers are very much aware that few people expected them to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006. “You hear stuff and people come up to you saying, ‘What do you think about 70 percent of America has you losing the first game?’” junior forward Cleanthony Early said. “You have to avoid everyone’s opinion and go out there and play hard.”
TV: 10:17 p.m. ET, TBS
ABOUT WICHITA STATE (28-8, 17-14-2 ATS): Freshman guard Ron Baker joined Early in having a big game in the slaying of Gonzaga. Both players scored 16 points and made four 3-pointers but Baker’s effort stood out for two reasons – it fell two points shy of his career-best output and it was only his fifth game since returning from a foot injury that sidelined him for 21 games. “Those 21 games were a long 21 games, I’ll just say that,” said Baker, who is averaging 8.3 points in 15 games. Early averages a team-best 13.9 points, senior forward Carl Hall averages 12.6 points and a team-high 6.9 rebounds and senior guard Malcolm Armstead contributes 10.6 points and a team-best four assists.
ABOUT LA SALLE (24-9, 15-12-2 ATS): Fatigue hasn’t yet been an issue for the Explorers despite the fact the team had to travel to Kansas City after winning their first outing in Dayton, Ohio. “At this point, you’re too young to be getting tired,” junior guard Tyreek Duren said. “You don’t really have time to get tired at this point. You wake up and win games.” Duren had 19 points against Ole Miss and ranks second on the squad in scoring at 14.5 points. Senior guard Ramon Galloway scored 24 points against the Rebels and averages a team-best 17.4 points. Junior guard Tyrone Garland averages 12.8 points and scored 17 against Ole Miss, including the game-winning basket on a driving shot with two seconds left.
* Explorers are 5-2 ATS in their last seven non-conference games.
* Shockers are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 non-conference games.
* Over is 7-3 in Explorers' last 10 overall.
* Over is 5-1 in Shockers' last 6 overall.
1. Wichita State last advanced to a regional final in 1981. La Salle played in back-to-back title games in 1954-55 and won the 1954 championship game.
2. Five Explorers have 30 or more steals, led by Galloway (63) and Duren (56).
3. The Shockers made 14 3-pointers in the upset of Gonzaga, tying for second-most in school history.